Make simple site adjustments to do business globally -- better

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The majority of business-to-business electronic commerce-enabled Web sites are designed for companies in the U.S. to conduct business with other companies in the U.S.

If you've launched such a site, you probably checked your server log after a few weeks to see how many people visited. You might have even looked beyond home page stats and the number of products sold to examine where on your site that users are spending the most time.

As you examine your log files, one of the things you can identify is the domain from where your visitor came. For most U.S.-based b-to-b sites, a visitor's domain will also be from a U.S.-based site, meaning the log entry most likely will have .com, .net or .edu.

As time goes on, you might very well see other domains appear in your log. Some of the common ones are .uk (United Kingdom), .ca (Canada), .nz (New Zealand) and .ie (Ireland), all primarily English-speaking countries.

You might also see some others, such as .ru, .nl, .to and .za, from other foreign countries. You might not have any idea how or why they showed up at your site, but there they are.

I assure you it will happen. It happens to my site every day, and I have never advertised or sent my URL to anyone outside the U.S. -- of course, even one e-mail message sent to a discussion list, of which a member is from another country, and bingo, your URL from your signature file is global in three seconds.

Some of the more forward-thinking Web marketers, upon seeing these log reports, realize they could sell products to people in other countries as easily as they can sell them to people in the U.S., and in some cases, this is true. Some companies even go as far as hiring Net marketing consultants to create multiple versions of their sites in different languages.

Some even secure the domain name for the country they are building a site. This magazine might get (Australia), for example.

All this is called "internationalizing" your Web site, and if you are clever, you can do it without spending huge amounts of time or money.

Easy changes to make

What's the NetSense in all this? If you decide to test the international marketing waters, you can make a few simple adjustments to your site that can be helpful to your international visitors. It's surprising how many sales are lost because of site-specific issues that never had to happen.

For example, if all you list on your site is your toll-free number, you might think you are being helpful, but many U.S.-based toll-free numbers are not reachable from other countries. You should include your direct-dial telephone and fax numbers. Fax numbers are crucial because reading and writing is often easier for non-native speakers to understand than verbal, and fax machines, like e-mail, are more time zone friendly.

And be sure to include the U.S. country code (1) along with the area code on all phone numbers listed on your site and in e-mail correspondence signature files. Don't expect all your foreign prospects to know 1 is the U.S. country code. Quick, what's the code for New Zealand? See what I mean?

For a brick-and-mortar business with a Web site, you probably have regular customer service hours listed on your site. Do you also list which time zone you're in? Did you know that some countries run on a 24-hour clock, unlike us in the States who use a 12-hour clock?

For international customers, list your time zone as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is the international starting point for all time zones. Instead of, "Contact us from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. PST M-F," which is nearly useless to a non-native-speaking site visitor, try, "Contact us Monday through Friday during office hours from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. PST / (10H00-15H00 GMT -8) at +1 (423) 637-2438." The "minus eight" means Pacific Standard Time is eight hours earlier than GMT. This approach is more helpful than you could imagine to a foreign visitor.

Finally, how about currency conversion? How easy do you make it for a user in the U.K. to see what the cost of your goods is in pounds sterling? Think this is a high-cost programming issue? See for a free way to do it.

With a little thought and research, you can have a site that, while it might not be a full-fledged global juggernaut, will at least not cost you business you could have had.

Eric Ward is a consultant, speaker and writer who launched the Web's first awareness-building service for Web sites in 1994. Reach him at [email protected].

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